Education in the RP: a broken system that needs fixing
This election season, you’ll hear a lot of candidates talk about how important education is. It is true, too. Quality education allows young people from poor families to succeed in society and provide a better, more equitable future. Many candidates will also say that they’ll place great emphasis on education. Pero palagi nalang eh. If all who had promised this had done so – starting with our current president – we’d have a first-rate education system already. But just look at the statistics today!
If there are 100 pupils who enter grade school in the Philippines:
- at least 30 of those are underweight during their elementary years;
- only 65 complete grade school; while only 23 gain reading comprehension;
- only 43 eventually finish high school.
The problem doesn’t stop there. Upon graduating high school…
- only 3 achieve the required mastery in English.
- only 1 achieves the required mastery in Science.
- only 7 achieve the required mastery in Math.
The temptation for us candidates is to continue mouthing the usual platitudes without being serious about it. This is going to be disastrous for the country. So let’s move beyond the platitudes. Let’s take a good hard look at our system and ask ourselves what do these numbers mean? To me, they show how the government is investing so little in basic education. Did you know that we’re only spending 2% of our GDP on such an important aspect of our country when the global norm is twice that? Specifically, the numbers tell me that:
1. We’re using an inappropriate medium of instruction for a child’s early years;
2. The poor health of the student affects the drop-out rate early on.
3. The poor quality/performance of teachers needs to be seriously addressed.
4. We have an incomplete and inadequate curriculum in both elementary and high school.
5. The enforcement of educational quality by state universities and colleges is sub-par.
6. Those outside the formal system lack options to succeed.
We’ve invested a lot of time in researching the issues and talking to stakeholders. As a result, we’ve drafted a Omnibus Education Bill that proposes to solve these problems comprehensively by implementing the following actions:
Use of the mother tongue as a mode of instruction in the early years of elementary schooling. There is a broad consensus in educational research that competency in the core subjects (English, Science and Math) which are crucial for communication and competition are best achieved if taught in the mother tongue. This should not be confused with giving up English. Proficiency in English is absolutely essential, period. But it’s not needed as a medium of instruction when the subject is math or science. In fact, such misapplication is harmful.
We have to help children overcome their health problems that actually hinder them from attending/completing their education. The school feeding program is an important element, but we have to ensure that it provides a healthy and balanced diet. Instead, our children have been force-fed overpriced noodles. There has been no worse indictment of our neglect of education than this scam at the expense of our children. And, tellingly, no one has had to face any consequences. This has got to change.
Improving the quality and performance of our teachers is the single most influential factor in determining how well schools perform and students learn. The bill proposes pre-service training, licensure examination, in-service updating, and management training for principals and school heads.
Improving the curriculum for elementary and high school entails (a) having compulsory pre-school education, (b) making high school more relevant, and (c) increasing the total number of “basic years” our children spend in school.
- Compulsory preschool should address critical readiness for children entering Grade 1.
- High school should be designed for two kinds of students: those who want to immediately work after graduating and those who want to pursue higher education. The bill establishes this two-track curriculum giving a much desired option for our high school graduates.
- Elite private school children receive 11 years. The global norm is 12. Did you know that the Philippines is the only country in Asia, and one of the three remaining countries in the world, to have only 10 years of basic education? We can’t expect to cram, in 10 years, what our more advanced neighbors go through in 12 and still expect good results.
Forcing quality into the SUC sector can be done by making government funding dependent on two things: performance and student population rather than just on the latter. This allows us to shut down programs in SUCs which aren’t performing very well in PRC exams.
For those who have less access to formal education, more funding/access to alternative learning systems would be appropriate.
As a basic right, each child should have access to quality education. This is the best way for us to catch up with our neighbors that have long made wise and huge investments in their own educational systems. But we have to start with the basics. So this is what we commit to do. The bill has already been filed and I ask your support in making this proposed solution a reality. If you have thoughts about this, I would love to hear them. Thanks!